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'Kommersant' Russian journalists quit over censorship

May 20, 2019

Two veteran reporters were fired, and their colleagues on the political desk quit in protest at the 'Kommersant' business newspaper. The billionaire owner apparently disapproved of an article.

Offices of Kommersant
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/TASS/D. Sorokin

After 10 years on the Kommersant politics and business newspaper in Moscow, two journalists behind a report about the possible replacement of the speaker of the parliament's upper house have been sacked.

One of Kommersant's leading reporters, Ivan Safronov, and deputy section editor Maxim Ivanov were fired on Monday allegedly at the behest of the billionaire owner of the newspaper, Alisher Usmanov,who is close to the Kremlin. A spokesman for Usmanov told DW that "Kommersant’s shareholder does not interfere in the editorial policy of the newspaper, and furthermore, is not involved in the decisions on the dismissal or hiring of journalists. In the case of the two Kommersant journalists, Alisher Usmanov played no role and found out about their dismissal from media reports."

The article in question had concerned a possible reshuffle of one of President Vladimir Putin's close allies.

"The shareholder has the right to make staffing decisions," deputy editor Gleb Cherkasov said. "The employees have the right to disagree with them in the only way possible: by changing their workplace."

Alisher Usmanov
Uzbekistan's Alisher Usmanov owns the Kommersant dailyImage: picture-alliance/Sputnik/S. Guneev

Political desk walkout

Less than an hour later, the entire politics desk announced their resignations in solidarity with Safronov and Ivanov. In total, 13 employees left, according to local media reports.

Editor-in-chief Vladimir Zhelonkin was appointed last year. He told the Vedomosti business daily: "We parted with the journalists because the editorial standards of Kommersant were violated while writing the article." It was unclear which standards had been violated.

Deputy editor Renata Yambaeva who has worked for 18 years at Kommersant did not resign. She said the dismissals were just the latest example of recent pressure on the newspaper's editorial staff. Via Facebook, she accused Usmanov of "destroying one of Russia's best media."

The story which appears to have displeased the owner and sparked the dismissals was published in April. It concerned the chair of the council which approves federal laws, Valentina Matvienko and was headlined: "They make speakers out of these people."

Read more: World Press Freedom Index 2018: Europe turning into crisis region for journalists

Safronov, Ivanov and their colleagues cited several government sources to report that Federation Council chair Matviyenko was due to meet Putin in May to discuss the possibility she might leave her post.

Pro-Kremlin media

The firings and resignations are indicative of the tensions between publishers and newspaper staff in Russia's closely controlled media, which is dominated by pro-Kremlin state outlets.

An Uzbek-born magnate, Kommersant owner Usmanov has an estimated net worth of $13 billion, (€11.6 billion) according to Forbes, with interests in iron ore and steel, media and internet companies. He acquired Kommersant in 2006. Usmanov also has properties in the UK, Italy and Russia.

jm/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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